Cedric Taylor teaches sociology at Central Michigan University, but to tell the story of the Flint, Michigan, water contamination crisis, he wanted a medium more powerful than a scholarly article.
He wanted the power of film and a team to help make it happen.
He found partners in Dan Bracken, director of new media initiatives in CMU's
College of Humanities and Social and Behavioral Sciences, and Don Blubaugh, a CMU senior studying
broadcast and cinematic arts.
Together, they created "Nor Any Drop to Drink," a documentary screened during the recent
Central Michigan International Film Festival at Park Library and Celebration Cinema in Mount Pleasant. Taylor plans to enter the documentary in several film festivals throughout the state and have a special screening for the campus community in March.
Nearly four years have passed since Flint residents began to notice a funny smell and taste in their water, but "for the people of Flint, this is far from over. It's still very real to them," said Taylor, a faculty member in
sociology, anthropology and social work.
Taylor had previous film training and developed an initial treatment for his documentary, but he needed help bringing it to life.
"I was able to see how Cedric's vision and background in sociology complemented my skills in filmmaking to create a very compelling and emotional film," Blubaugh said.
Blubaugh began working with Taylor as an intern, but he stayed on as the documentary's cinematographer, responsible for everything from setting up interviews to managing lighting and doing some of the filming and film photography. He also managed the documentary's social media presence. His name appears in the film's credits as a producer.
"He was so professional, so enthusiastic, and he had so many ideas," Taylor said of Blubaugh.
CMU faculty and student film team Cedric Taylor (left) and Don Blubaugh.
Road trips and harsh realities
The two carpooled to Flint several times and made trips to Lansing and Detroit together. They used their drive time to review tasks, compare notes and reflect on what they were seeing around them.
"A lot of times we'd just be driving around the city, noticing the wear and tear. It was obvious that this place was hurting," Blubaugh said.
He said that working with Taylor exposed him to some very difficult moments. The pair attended community meetings, visited people in their homes and filmed some scenes that had them both fighting tears.
But he also got to experience moments of happiness that not many others get to witness.
"One of the more memorable trips was attending a birthday party. Even though Flint is going through terrible times, I was able to film some of the family and togetherness that is very strong there," Blubaugh said.
Composing a visual story
Taylor had taken film classes before, but he learned things he never expected from Blubaugh.
"When you're making a documentary, every shot has to tell a story. When we were filming, I couldn't always see what Don was seeing until we got back to the editing booth. When you see how each shot tells part of the story, you see the film come together," he said.
Blubaugh was surprised how much work the project required.
"It's a very long and difficult process, from preproduction to postproduction. There is a lot of patience that goes along with making a good documentary," he said.
He didn't mind putting in the extra hours.
"This is a huge opportunity for me to be named as a producer on a film that has the potential to reach a very big audience," Blubaugh said, but that wasn't the only thing on his mind.
"I wanted to put in the best work I can, not only for myself, but for the city of Flint."
Blubaugh said he hopes festivals will allow a large and diverse audience to hear the story and take action.
"I hope people will learn that something needs to be done," he said.